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Building the Perfect Kitchen
Part III: Gadgets and Utensils
By Kirk Leins
We're ready to begin the third leg of our journey towards building the perfect kitchen! I truly hope it's been as fun for you as it has been for me. So far, we have covered knives, cutting boards, pots and pans. Our "virtual kitchen" is really starting to take shape. For this installment, I've decided to address an area of cooking equipment that most people have very little knowledge about. I'm talking about kitchen gadgets and utensils.
If you're confused regarding what gadgets and utensils to purchase, don't worry; it's not really your fault. Personally, I blame companies who dedicate themselves to producing mass amounts of worthless products. That's right – worthless! I can't tell you the number of times I've either cooked in someone's kitchen or traipsed through a department store, counting the number of cooking utensils that no one ever needs to own. If I had a dime for every one of them…well, you know the rest.
Here's the thing. I love this great country of ours but, as with anything else, there's a downside. On the one hand, we as consumers have access to almost everything imaginable. On the other hand, we sometimes operate under the notion that if the man on TV tells us we need something, by golly we must have it. If you couple this gratuitous misinformation with someone who really wants to learn cooking, what you end up with is an overstocked kitchen, complete with drawers and cabinets full of useless stuff. That's where I come in.
If you've read the two prior installments of this series, you know that I'm not trying to sell you anything. Rather my purpose is to give you information that you can choose to use at your own discretion. That said, read on as I untangle this web of confusion and clear up a little of your drawer space.
For starters, every piece of equipment that I reference in this installment should be purchased at your nearest restaurant supply store. This is where you'll find the most durable and least expensive versions of each product.
Number one on my list of kitchen gadgets is a good set of tongs. The reason for this is their multiple uses. Tongs are not only great for picking up things like meat, vegetables, and pasta; but they can be used to stir a pot when you're in a pinch. They're also handy for moving pots along a stovetop if an oven mitt isn't handy. My favorite brand of tongs comes from a company called Edlund. Any restaurant supply store worth its metal will be very familiar with this brand.
Wooden spoons come in second on my list. Pick up several of these as they have a tendency to either snap in half after a lot of use or even burn if left too close to a flame. I come from the restaurant/personal chef world, and you'd be surprised at some of the weird things that happen in a busy kitchen.
Serving spoons and spatulas are next. When it comes to serving spoons, you'll need two; a regular one and a slotted one for straining solids from liquids. When it comes to spatulas, I recommend getting several. You should own at least one spatula made from plastic. This is what you'll use on any of your non-stick cookware. Using metal on non-stick will eventually ruin the finish of your pot or pan. I then recommend getting a couple of offset spatulas in varying sizes. Offset spatulas are nothing more than metal spatulas, slightly offset from the handle. This allows you to really get underneath whatever you're lifting.
One of my favorite kitchen gadgets is something known as a micro-planer. If you've ever watched the Food Network, chances are you've seen this device. It usually consists of a plastic handle attached to a long, thin grater of sorts. Trust me when I say this tool makes a joy out of grating things like parmesan cheese, citrus zest, and fresh nutmeg. Buying a separate box grater is also a good idea. This is what you'll use to grate softer cheeses and veggies.
Our next subject is thermometers. There are two different types I'd suggest you buy. The first is what's known as an instant-read thermometer. Also known as a meat thermometer, this device allows you to read the internal temperature of larger cuts of meat, resulting in perfect degrees of doneness, every single time. The second type is a deep-fry thermometer. Also known as a candy thermometer, this is the weapon of choice for identifying the temperature of frying oil.
A large colander and a fine-mesh sieve are also very important. The colander can be used for everything from washing fruits and vegetables to draining pasta. The sieve, on the other hand, can be used for draining smaller items and straining sauces and gravies.
A set of mixing bowls in various sizes is something that many kitchens lack. If it were up to me, I'd buy a combination of glass and aluminum bowls. Glass is non-reactive so it's perfect for acidic recipes like salad dressing. Aluminum is a great conductor so it's a perfect, make-shift double-boiler. To this day, when I make hollandaise sauce, I use an aluminum bowl over a pot of boiling water as opposed to my expensive All-Clad double boiler.
If you're not familiar with the kitchen device known as a mandolin, give them a look-see. They're pretty awesome. A mandolin is used for making paper-thin slices out of any vegetable or fruit, as well as cutting French fries and waffle fries. The problem is a good stainless steel mandolin is going to run you $150. The solution here is a product known as a V-Slicer. V-slicers are mini mandolins made from plastic, as opposed to stainless, and will only cost you $30.
A decent quality salad spinner is also something I recommend buying. There's really no better way to dry your lettuce than with a salad spinner. Speaking of salad, how about picking up several good quality whisks, in a range of sizes? Salad dressings, scrambled eggs, and various batters all require a whisk during their preparation.
Don't forget various and sundry utensils like measuring cups and spoons, a good vegetable peeler, an ice cream scoop, and a can opener. While you're at it, pick yourself up an apron, a few pot holders, and some good quality oven mitts as well.
I think that about covers it. This may seem like a lot of stuff, but remember, it's all pretty inexpensive as long as you purchase everything at a restaurant supply store. If you're not familiar with stores of this nature in your area, I suggest logging on to www.yellowpages.com or www.google.com and conducting searches using the term, "restaurant supply" and the name of your nearest large city. You should have no problem coming up with several options. Worst case scenario, you can find the majority of these items at stores like Target, Walmart and K-Mart. It's important to keep in mind that, although these stores may have good prices, the quality of this equipment will not be at the level of a restaurant supply store.
So go out there and buy those utensils and gadgets. And look forward to the upcoming and final chapter in our series, Building the Perfect Kitchen, Part 4: Electronic Equipment. Until then, happy shopping and happy cooking!
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